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Put the refuges in the Project

Published Feb. 8, 2004

By Robert C. Fields

Guest columnist

In a recent news article about funding for the Klamath Basin, there was, as usual, no mention by the administration of a proposal to provide an adequate and dependable water supply to Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, especially the Lower Klamath Refuge.

These refuges are a critical link in the Pacific Flyway and have been around since 1908. Under current law they are, however, last in line for water.

During my tenure as manager of these refuges from 1974-1986, water supplies could be negotiated on a yearly basis. Since listing of the suckerfish and Coho salmon in the Klamath system, additional water is allocated for listed species and water for refuges is no longer available on a reliable basis.

The Klamath Reclamation Project needs to be reauthorized, making the wildlife refuges a purpose of the project and thereby including them in future water allocations. This was done in the Central Valley Project in California in the 1980s and has secured water for state and federal wildlife areas since they became a purpose of the project.

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton wants to have a "larger watershed approach." This should include a re-examination of the Trinity River, which has water diverted to California's Central Valley Project, thereby limiting flows downstream. The fish die-off in 2002 could probably have been prevented or alleviated with additional water down the Trinity. It is unrealistic to expect to resolve downstream Klamath River issues without addressing the Trinity River situation.

Removal of the Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River has long been advocated to aid in sucker recovery. The tribe wants recovery of these fish, but has balked at removing a significant barrier to increased breeding habitat.

They cannot (or should not) have it both ways. If habitat above the dam is in poor condition, then address that issue. Funds invested in habitat improvement will yield greater long-term benefits than programs such as a water bank.

The federal government may well have obligations in tribal water issues and to agriculture in the Klamath Project, but it also has responsibilities for wildlife refuges. I do not see any plans put forward that provide reliable water supplies for refuges.

Making refuges a purpose of the project would be the best way to address refuge water issues on a sustained basis and bring other uses of water into balance with existing supplies.





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